I am familiar with Rule 15 from William Stunk's "The Elements of Style", part of which basically states that in a series, an article or preposition applying to all series members may be placed before each member or at the beginning of the series. For example:

In summer, spring, or fall = In summer, in spring, or in fall

However, what if the article or preposition is not intended for each series member, but instead is to apply to the whole series? For example:

The game may be held in at least one of the spring, the summer, and the fall

Does the above example correctly convey the desire that the game may be held "in the spring, in the summer, in the fall, or in any combination of the seasons"?

If not, would a collon help? Example:

The game may be held in at least one of: the spring, the summer, and the fall.

Or is "or" required in place of "and"?

Basically I guess the question boils down to how the phrase "at least one of" modifies and/or interacts with the rule of parallel structure in lists.

Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.
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Is the game a recurring event, or will it be held just once? I assume that it's recurring, but in that case, shouldn't "game" be plural?

It would be helpful if you could include the entire paragraph in which the planned sentence is to appear.
A question for the native speakers of English.
Would this sound strange?

"The game/s may be held in at least one of three seasons: spring, summer and fall."


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Let me put the question in context. I believe that will help.

A U.S. federal court recently interpreted language in a U.S. Patent based on the Parallel Structure rule. In other words, the patent included language similar to the following:

'A' includes at least one of a start time, an end time, and a program type.

The patent relates to interactive television program guides, and 'A' refers to something a user (television viewer) selects to interact with the guide (programming the guide to record a show that starts at a certrain time, for example).

The court used the Parallel Structure rule to interpret the language to mean the following:

'A' includes at least one of a start time, at least one of an end time, and at least one of a program type.

This interpretation means that for the patent to be infringed, a user must select each of a start time, an end time, and a program type. I am fairly sure that the person who drafted the language of the patent intended the language to only require a user to select any one of the "categories", or any combination of them. A user can simply chose to start recording, for example, without specifying an end time.

So, the question is, how should the phrase be written if the modifier "at least one of" is to be applied to the entire list instead of each member of the list? Is there such a rule?

One of the problems is that the U.S. Patent Office often has problems accepting the use of the word "or" in a patent. Thus, simply substituting "or" for "and" in the phrase may not be an acceptable soultion. Also, it does not seem clear how one can draft the phrase to effectively cover the situation where any one of the list members, or any combination of the list members is covered.

Perhaps the suggestion from miriam works?

I hope this clarifies things.

Anyone interested in viewing the opinion may find it at:


There are no page numbers in the document, so you'll have to do a search for "at least one of" to find the appropriate section.

(Please excuse any poor grammar that appears in my explanation. I am certainly not proficient in my personal use of the language, although I do try)

I think Miriam's sentence sounds fine.
I agree that Miriam's sentence sounds fine. My only concern would be one relatively specific to the legal usage of language (Patent Law language usage in particular).

Would the inclusion of "three seasons" (which appears to solve the ambiguity regarding how "at least one of" applies) seem to imply that only three seasons are possible?

Language that is "closed", or appears to limit the amount of series members (seasons, in this case), would not be advantageous to use in a patent (generally speaking).

It seems to be a fine line that must be tread between not being too limiting and not being too ambiguous...

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I read the legal opinion. This issue differs from the example you gave because the items listed in the patent are not constants such as seasons but variables that can have multiple values. The issue was whether the term "one or more of" required that at a value be present for at least one variable, or, alternatively, that all variables be given at least one value.

The plaintiff argued that the conjunction "and" was used in the list of variables to obviate the possibility of ambiguity as according to their interpretation of MPEP § 706.03(d) (1990). The court disagreed with this justification for the use of "and", and ruled in favor of a plain language interpretation under which the use of "and" is viewed as making the list conjunctive.

Could you supply the entire paragraph in which the planned sentence will appear? That would be helpful at this point.
The phrase I presented is just an example. The language "at least one of", preceding a list/series, is used by patent practitioners on a regular basis in varying contexts.

Does it really matter (as the court seemed to think it did) whether the members of the series are constants (such as seasons) or variables (such as times or dates)? Does the series member type dictate how the modifer applies?

Does making the series conjunctive or disjunctive change whether the modifier applies to the series as a whole or to each series member?

Thanks for taking the time to read the opinion and provide advice.Emotion: smile

As an interesting note, the same court interpreted (in 2001) the phrase "at least one of a two-digit, a three-digit, or a four-digit year" to mean that the year may be either a two-digit year, a three-digit year, a four-digit year, or any combination of the three series members. Its not clear how, if the modifier applies to each member of the series, the "any combination" possibility is, well, possible.

The use of "or" (in patents), despite the court's denial, has often been rejected by the Patent Office (for making a phrase indefinite/ambiguous). Thus, many practitioners have used "and" with series/lists for years, potentially meaning something entirely different than how the use is apparently interpreted...
The way I read the opinion, the fact that the items in the list were variables as opposed to constants such as the names of seasons was decisive. I also noted that the word "desired" appeared at both the beginning and end of the list, adding weight to their opinion that the "at least one of" was operative on each variable; furthermore, as we've already noted, the word "and" preceded the last item on the list.

It would seem that a dispute over interpretation is possible whenever the items on a list could themselves have multiple values or non-singular quantity. For example:

1. Put at least one of the following in the blender: a fruit, a vegetable, and a legume.
2. The stored values include at least one of temperature, humidity, loudness, and acceleration.

The above examples list analog variables (such as temperature) that could have any number of values or physical things (e.g. fruit) that could be in any quantity, thereby making two interpretations possible.

In the 2001 case you cited, a "two-digit year" is a fixed concept, not a variable. Yet the court, seemingly in defiance of logic, found that a year could be "any combination" of two-, three-, or four-digits. This is puzzling.

Changing from "and" to "or" does, from a plain-language standpoint (the only one I'm qualified to comment from), cause a semantic shift:

1. Put at least one of the following in the blender: a fruit, a vegetable, or a legume.
2. The stored values include at least one of temperature, humidity, loudness, or acceleration.

The common interpretation would be that "at least one of" now applies to the series as a whole. But, as you noted, the use of "or" is customarily contraindicated for the reason given.
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